Hearing that U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew plans to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill made Rose Johnson pause for a moment.
It “actually sent chills down my spine,” Johnson said.
Tubman, a famous 19th century abolitionist and a leader of the Underground Railroad, will replace former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, according to a U.S. Treasury official. Tubman will be the first African-American on U.S. paper money and the first woman depicted in 100 years.
“This is such a forward-moving decision,” said Johnson, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, an environmental and civil rights group in Gainesville.
Rojene Bailey, volunteer executive director of Gainesville’s Beulah Rucker Museum & Education Center, said it showed “times are changing.”
Johnson said it’s an unmistakable symbolism that a woman who helped free slaves is replacing the seventh president, a man who owned slaves.
“It’s more than a currency design change for me,” Johnson said. “It symbolizes a shift in how we can think about our history.”
She said giving Tubman such a prominent place is “worth more than its weight in gold.”
Bailey said the value of Tubman’s work was just as great back when it was done as it is now.
“Time has a way of letting people know the value of people,” Bailey said. “People who are good at what they do should be recognized. It doesn’t matter what race you are.”
Bailey has a national blues show, “BluesTime in the City,” which airs locally on 89.1-FM WBCX from 4-6 p.m. on Saturdays.
Bailey called Tubman “one of many” black heroes and called the change of the $20 bill a “great feat” and “just fantastic.”
Johnson said she looks forward to being able to hold a $20 bill with Tubman on it and carry around such a symbol of “freedom and liberation.”
“This is just really overwhelming to know that this change is coming in my own lifetime,” Johnson said.
Lew is also expected to provide details on other changes being made to the $20, $10 and $5 bills when he officially announces Tubman’s picture being put on the $20 bill.
The decision to place Tubman’s portrait on the $20 bill likely means that Lew has decided to keep Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, a victory for those who had opposed his initial plan to remove Hamilton.
An online group, Women on 20s, said it was encouraged that Lew was responding to its campaign to replace Jackson with a woman. But it said it would not claim victory unless Lew also committed to issuing the new $20 bill at the same time that the redesigned $10 bill is scheduled to be issued in 2020.
The $10 bill is the next note scheduled to be redesigned to introduce updated protections against counterfeiting. That redesign was scheduled to be unveiled in 2020, which marks the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. Lew had often cited that connection as a reason to put a woman on the $10 bill.
However, the effort ran into strong objections from supporters of Hamilton, who is enjoying renewed interest with the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
The expectation is that Lew will propose replacing the Treasury building, now on the back of the $10 bill, with a mural-style depiction of the suffrage movement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.